Not everyone who gets a migraine experiences the same symptoms. Migraine headaches vary in pain intensity, frequency, and duration. This page discusses different types of migraines and their symptoms.

Common Migraines

As the name implies, common migraines are the most widely experienced type of migraine headache.5

Symptoms typical of common migraines, also called migraines without aura, include:

  • Intense head pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Extreme sensitivity to sounds and light
  • Duration from 4 to 72 hours

Common migraines are not preceded by a prodrome, a range of symptoms that begin a day or two before a migraine.

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Migraines with Aura

Visual and sensory symptoms, called an aura, affect about one-fourth of those who have migraine headaches. Symptoms of an aura can include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Seeing zig-zag images, dots, or flashing lights
  • Numbness on one side of the body
  • A tingling sensation
  • Difficulty speaking

An aura can occur before or during a migraine and generally lasts between 10 and 30 minutes.

Menstrual Migraines/Hormonal Migraines

Migraine headaches in women and girls may be affected by menstrual periods. These headaches typically:

  • Start 2 days before the period or during ovulation
  • Are more severe and longer-lasting than other migraines
  • Are more likely than other migraines to include nausea and vomiting

The predictable nature of these migraines allows female patients to work with their health care providers to plan preventive treatment.

Menstrual migraines typically begin sometime after a girl starts menstruating, and may stop during pregnancy. In many cases, these migraines go away entirely after menopause.

Migraine with Brainstem Aura (Basilar Migraines)

People who have migraines with brainstem aura typically report these symptoms:

  • Head pain
  • Fainting or dizziness
  • Clumsiness
  • Double vision
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Symptoms usually subside in an hour or less

These symptoms can be alarming, prompting fears that a serious illness is occurring. Basilar migraines are the most common migraine diagnosed in children, and generally begin about the age of 7.

Hemiplegic Migraines

The term hemiplegic refers to paralysis on one side of the body. Many of the symptoms of hemiplegic migraines affect the arms, legs, or face on just one side of the body, such as:

  • Muscle weakness or numbness
  • A loss of sensation or a prickly feeling

Other symptoms include:

  • Double vision
  • Blind spots
  • Milder pain than is typical of most migraines
  • Symptoms that may persist for days or weeks

Hemiplegic migraines are rare, and usually first appear in childhood.

Retinal Migraine

The array of visual symptoms that can occur with retinal migraines are considered a type of aura. Common symptoms include:

  • Loss or limitation in vision, usually for a few minutes to an hour, but sometimes for months
  • Blurry vision
  • Flashing lights or spots
  • Tunnel vision

If loss of vision occurs, it is advisable to see a specialist as soon as possible, since a retinal migraine may increase the risk of more serious vision problems.

Silent Migraine/Migraine Without Head Pain

A combination of migraine symptoms other than headache is sometimes called a silent migraine or acephalgic migraine. The International Headache Society considers silent migraines to be a type of migraine aura.6

The lack of accompanying pain can make the onset of a silent migraine jarring. Typical symptoms include:

  • Dizziness
  • Visual disruptions
  • Nausea

Silent migraines are often diagnosed in people who experience other kinds of migraines. In many cases silent migraines are followed by a migraine headache with head pain.

Each type of migraine has its own set of symptoms and potential treatments. Medical care is strongly advised the first time any kind of migraine headache is experienced. Severe headaches can be the sign of an urgent medical condition.

Episodic vs. Chronic Migraines

In addition to migraine type, experts categorize migraines according to frequency and duration:

  • Episodic migraines are experienced for fewer than 15 days of the month. The majority of people with migraines are in this category.
  • Chronic migraines describe headaches that affect more than 15 days of each month—with at least 8 days of the headaches fitting the description of a migraine. Experts estimate chronic migraines affect 2% of those with migraines.7

Most migraines are categorized as common episodic migraines.

References:

  1. The International Classification of Headache Disorders, 3rd edition (beta version). Headache Classification Committee of the International Headache Society (IHS). Cephalalgia. 2013 Jul; 33(9):629-808.
  2. Brennan KC, Bates EA, Shapiro RE, et al. Casein kinase iδ mutations in familial migraine and advanced sleep phase. Sci Transl Med. 2013;5(183):183ra56, 1-11.
  3. Manack AN, Buse DC, Lipton RB. Chronic migraine: epidemiology and disease burden. Curr Pain Headache Rep. 2011;15(1):70-8.
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